Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Designer Cannibalism?

Tiredly checking my email late last night, I came across an invitation to sell my logos on iStockphoto. I couldn't really process it mentally, so I left it open and gave it a second look this morning. I honestly don't think I processed it any better. WTF is this?

Confused, I read everything and then went onto the website to check the forum. I sent an email to a few esteemed designer friends to see if there was something I was missing, some positive angle that I hadn't seen right away. Because to me it looked horrible and I couldn't understand it.

Quick catch up:
In case you're not familiar with iStockphoto, they are an internet-based "member-generated image and design community." Translation: they sell people's photographs, illustrations, videos, audio tracks and Flash files as royalty-free files. They sell to designers. RIght, back to this logo thing they're doing.

The nuttyshell:
A designer submits a logo they have sitting around or a new one they come up with to iStockphoto. If iStockphoto approves it, for a limited time only, the designer receives $5. Woo hoo! iStockphoto now owns it outright. This logo goes up on the site for an asking price of 100 to 750 credits (value of each logo suggested by designer but determined by iStockphoto). If I've done my math right, this puts the logo dollar amount somewhere between $24 and $847.50. Upon sale of said logo it comes down (one-time sale), iStockphoto gives 50% in royalties. The designer walks away with $12 to $423.75 for their original logo design.

Issues that I see straight away:

One, copyright. iStockphoto is putting the burden of checking for trademarkability on the client. Dangerous, plus don't you just want to know that you are spending money on original art?

Two, branding value. Talented, professional designers have enough of a struggle trying to prove their worth without companies like this establishing "bulk pricing" for something as custom as a logo. How can one $50 piece of art tell the story of your company when it wasn't even made for you?

Three, designer cannibalism. Paying slave-labor prices to designers in order to turn around and sell to designers who then have to turn around and sell to their client. What is this saying?

On iStockphoto's forum, designers sound happier than pigs in mud and are rolling their sleeves up to start mass-designing logos for mystery companies. I am so confused! Here are comments from this morning's email that went between a few of my professional designer friends:

"Isn't it time to stop using Istock and other "stock companies" (it's not even really stock, it's really cheap royalty free)? I hope none of you all take part in this. Likewise with crowdsourcing. You can't expect everyone to understand the value of real design in the business environment, but there is no excuse for industry suppliers. Hopefully this logo thing will end up the same place the stock layouts did, nowhere."
Kip Williams []

"I agree Kip. I have a hotline set up for anyone who is contemplating Spec Work. I will talk you off that ledge. Remember, you are loved, so are your talents and design. Dont throw it all away and make a mess for the rest of us."
Andy Stracuzzi []

So, is iStockphoto helping designers in a rough economy by offering them the opportunity to put work on a site that might or might not yield them at most a few hundred dollars? Or is this yet another pin in the design industry voo-doo doll that someone out there is wickedly poking in? There are no rules for this, we have to police ourselves. If you agree with me that this sounds horrible, please, don't do it and tell your designer friends the same.

Whores don't put their goods up on spec, let's not jump on this new, designer, pimp ride either.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

R3: Renaissance 3.0

Web 2.0 is dead. Social media and social networking are the new PR and advertising is blending into marketing is the new black and white newspapers are dinosaurs are still hot with the kid market your product as a human seeking a date with your customer not their wallet. Forget CEO, it's SEO, SEM, SMO, SMS, GPS, conversations, experiential, engagement, behavioral, digital, e, i, blog, blawg, vlog, pod, dig, cast, web, net, analytics, metrics, pay-per-click, micro, global, tweet, portal, virus is bad, viral is good. Can anyone hear me? Yes, loud and clear! The world is listening just as much as the world is talking.

We live in a world of paradoxes. We constantly want and resist change at the same time because of our basic needs for stability and variety, leaving us with an ever-present inner-struggle. Hence all the panic right now. I say we calm down a little and enjoy the ride, this recession part of a renaissance. A transformation. An evolution.

People are running around saying that the automobile industry is in trouble. Really? Are we suddenly not going to need to get around? *blows raspberry* Of course the automobile industry is in trouble, but only as we know it. Thank God! We've been using outdated technology – I look forward to clean, efficient, quick transportation. In fact I really look forward to teleporting, but that will take a bit longer.

It's not any one industry that is undergoing metamorphosis, it's industry itself. Everything is changing – corporate structure, systems, religions, expectations... we are in a renaissance of science and culture.

The advertising industry is no exception. Technology has given us a whole new world of media, and has shifted the powers around to level the communications playing field between the consumers and the marketers. This is exciting! We are all both consumer and marketer to whatever degree, so it's good for everyone. The trick is to jump in with an open mind and to let go of the old games. It's time to redefine, for a greater good.

During artistic renaissances, there are a plethora of artists that sprout up and help push up the concrete institutions, but only certain people really get it right and are remembered for it. So who are the Michaelangelos of the ad industry during this renaissance we're going through? How can we tell the hacks from the masters? The trick might be to watch for people who practice the very thing they should be preaching right now: honesty.

Above all else, this level playing field has forced honesty, and if a marketing company is telling its clients that they need to have "honest conversations" with their consumers, then the marketing company should be having one too. That means admitting that no one is an expert right now because things are changing too fast. There are strong players, though. These players are out there not just speaking the new language, but questioning and redefining it as they go, faster than Googles changes its SEO criteria.

So engage in the conversation whether you're a marketer or a consumer, because really, you're both.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Farming is the new black

Farming? Really?
Yes, if you're not already hooked on plowing, you've at least seen a related request (or a hundred) come across your Facebook. As you read this blog, it's already too late to spot this trend at the early-adoption stage. Be it in cyberland or live earth, farming is sprouting up and growing fast.
When it comes to trends, I find that I get tired of themes and buzzwords right about when they become most relevant to the general public. Aesthetic trends, for example – just when something I like becomes readily available, I know it's time to move on. Remember the suns and moons, Raphael's angels, concentric circles and grunge? Alas, I loved them all once. The disappointment that comes when I can easily find what I like gets replaced by a curiosity for what's new and not on every-other teenager's shirt.
To stay ahead and set trends, you have to move fast and be different. You shouldn't be doing what the masses do. However, the largest percentage of consumers happily ride the big waves. They were out there buying suns and moons set in dark blue and gold because it was "in." They are still caught up in a 70's and 80's bag that's mixed up with hip-hop and grunge right now, though thankfully I believe the "swoosh" is no longer the most popular logo element in new designs. If you're selling to this larger percentage of consumers, then it's not always a bad thing to be with the current trend as opposed to ahead of it.
"In this economy...blah blah blah."  Those words are old now if you're a trend-setter but they're not old to the average person feeling these tough times. They're still highly relevant. How are advertisers speaking to consumers right now? With themes of value, of a deeper meaning, back-to-the-basics, of helping out and pitching in. In a time when the government is needed most, it is trusted least. Self-reliance used to be running your own stock portfolio, heavily investing in a 401K and saving for kids' college. Now, self-reliance has gone back to basics. All the way back to the farm.

People are growing food gardens in their own back yards. From the White House down to the hoods and everywhere in between, harvesting is IN. While I don't get delicious collard greens from the computer like I do from my friend Shonna's real-life garden, I recognize a value of virtual farming in the numbers. Facebook alone has over SIXTY Farm-related games and quizzes plus tag-along apps. FarmVille (the offshoot of YoVille on Facebook) is leading the hoe-down with 33 million monthly active users – over FarmTown (also on Facebook) which reaps-in 18 million monthly active users. 
This growing farming trend is about community as much as self-reliance. Social networking has gone to the farm, at least with the over-thirty's and their mothers. All of these farm games involve visiting and working on friends' farms, giving gifts to each other, and some even include chat rooms. While this trend might pass and go out to sea with the concentric circle craze, it's worth taking note of now. Ride the big wave. People are willing to pour their time into food gardening in the dirt and virtual farming on the computer because of the sense of accomplishment, growth, significance, connection and contribution that they get in "economically challenging times like these."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hey Fox, you're micro-blogging my view!

Last night my mom was freaking out because Twitter posts were on the television screen while she was watching Fringe. At first I thought her complaints were the voice of her opposition to the conformist “twitterland” that we're all being sucked into. She isn’t a fan of the social media renaissance. 
"Come out here and look at this Jessi! You have to see it!" 
I tore myself away from Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Yahoo, and went into the living room. To my surprise, what I saw really was bad! One third of the TV screen was being taken up with two tweets at a time, by the Fringe people answering fans' questions. 
At first it seems like a good idea: engage the audience in a conversation, celebrities answer questions live on TV, yes? 
NO! Three strikes, they’re out.

First strike: The beauty of social media is that it is conversational, putting power in the consumer’s hands. It’s not one-sided messages that TV throws at us. Last night we (the viewers) couldn’t see the questions and @FringeonFox didn't answer with the question built-in. Interviewing 101 – phrase your answer with the question. Question: What’s your favorite color. Correct answer: “My favorite color is blue.” Wrong answer: “Blue." Here are some of the tweets they posted:
- RT @PeterBishop2 @jimdumas - the answers are yes and yes. #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 Watch what happens #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 Look at this! #fringe
- RT @JPFringe Sanford Harris - what a sweetheart! #fringe
- Don't miss season 2 of #FRINGE premiering Thu 9/17 at 9/8c on #FOX.
- RT @LabDad1 @xcori Of course! I'm only human #fringe
- RT @JWFringe @aolli I am so glad you love the show. Thanks man!!! #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 Josh and Anna said that Clint Howard was fantastic to work with! #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 This is a very important scene! #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 I haven't seen this scene for ages! #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 This is pretty powerful #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 Watch this scene here - she's really mean to me! #fringe
- RT @PeterBishop2 I hope you mean "did" metaphorically. #fringe
- RT @LabDad1 this is really cool what happens here #fringe
- RT @PeterBishop2 Like Father Like Son. #fringe
What a waste of space. 

Strike two: Distraction. Tweets like, "Watch this!" and "This is powerful" don’t add to the plot. They actually make it impossible to watch with any kind of focus. Fringe isn't a light comedy where you don't need details. It's a metaphysical-psycho-drama that you want to pay attention to. By distracting their viewers, they have taken away from the product. If their goal was to detract value from the show and replace it with sensationalism, they might have hit their mark. Here are some tweets that went out from their audience last night:
- bobh62000 @FRINGEonFOX I will never watch Fringe again if I see twitter popping up on my TV.
- irishgirlene @FRINGEonFOX: why r u doing this on screen and will u b doing this all season
- Eskissmo_chick @Fringe This is rediculous! I hope this doesn't happen on any other good shows.
- HeatherAre @fringe how do I turn this off my tv?!
- gregtarnoff @mkebiz seriously? I can't watch it because they are distracting. Bad move @fox @fringe #fringe
Strike three: It's contrived. Unofficial rules 1, 2, and 3 in social marketing: be genuine, be relevant, be transparent. Rule 4: listen, don’t push. Fox decided to take up 1/3 of the screen during a show that has avid and intelligent followers, to disseminate drivel. I wonder if they filmed for it. Did they actually compromise creative integrity to make space for these tweets? I hope not.  Either way it was not asked for by their audience, it was “forced.” I hope Fox uses Twitter to listen, not just to masturbate in the mirror. 
- carsnmoney00 @fringe I hope you idiots dont do this again
By the time it all ended – the hoopla and the show – my mom threw up her hands and said, "I didn't even see the show!"